It: Chapter Two
Bruce Steele: So, Stephen King's epic novel It is now an epic theatrical experience, as the nearly three-hour It: Chapter Two completes the tale begun two years ago with It. aka Chapter One. Was it worth the wait — and the investment of time?
Edwin Arnaudin: Absolutely, and I'm shocked to have just typed that word. I'm one of few viewers who found the previous installment a near complete failure, but practically every aspect of the follow-up film is a marked improvement. Do you agree?
Bruce: I felt the opposite. Chapter One wasn't great, but at least I liked the characters and thought I understood the rules of engagement for the shape-shifting monster that returns to terrorize Derry, Maine, every 27 years. This time around, I disliked almost all the characters — the grownup versions of the kids from Chapter One — and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the monster encounters. The movie also got off to an extremely nasty start with a brutally depicted gay-bashing unrelated to the monster and the domestic abuse beating of a woman. I had a hard time believing in the core goodness of the movie or the filmmakers after that, and they never won me back.
Edwin: While clumsy, these initial scenes nonetheless establish the hyper-relatable theme of unresolved issues from one's youth and their impact on adulthood. I found that conflict far more compelling than the surprisingly clichè presentation of childhood in the previous chapter, especially as portrayed by far more experienced and talented actors.
Bruce: With James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader among the six leads — and Bill Skarsgård back as Pennywise the clown — it’s definitely an A-list cast, but they don’t have much to play. The adults have vague personal issues and even vaguer relationships that barely connect to the horror story. I liked the kids in Chapter One better than you did, and while their defining traits weren’t unique, their quirks and families were clearly dramatized and shaped their interaction with the supernatural. It’s like director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman — the same team from the first movie — decided the adults didn’t need character development as long as we see snippets of their childhoods. Chapter Two suffers greatly from the retread syndrome: Just do the same things in a slightly different way and hope the audience goes along.
Edwin: I found the filmmaking significantly better this go-round. Though Muschietti sets up a series of creepy scenes in Chapter One, he consistently botches the timing of his jump scares. That's not the case here, and his overall visual acumen has likewise evolved. I kept being impressed by his framing, use of close-ups, and stylistic choices. He's a totally different director now.
Bruce: I didn’t notice. Chapter One’s scares I found moderately entertaining, and occasionally creepy, but nothing here scared me or impressed me much. The CGI work seems stuck about 10 or 15 years in the past.
Edwin: The wonky special effects remain problematic. A critter attack at an Asian restaurant is more awkward than creepy, and the continued manifestation of It's menace as tall, gangly, CGI monsters is a terrific way to turn a tense scene unintentionally funny.
Bruce: I could have used some laughs through the nearly three-hour running time. Instead, the only relief I got from the boring adults were the flashbacks to the children, mostly new scenes that must have been filmed during the making of Chapter One. The youngsters were so much more charming and funny than their dreary grown-up selves I found myself feeling more warmly toward the original movie than I did at the time. It was instant nostalgia.
Edwin: The occasional flashbacks to The Losers in 1989 are just the right amount of time to spend with the younger cast. If there was a way to incorporate their battles with Pennywise into a cut of the film where their adult counterparts are the main focus, this could be one of the best Stephen King adaptations. I give Chapter 2 a solid B.
Bruce: There’s one moment in which adult Bill (McAvoy) enters a scene from the first movie with young Bill (Jaeden Martell) that demonstrates the kind of smart overlay Chapter Two could have been, connecting the eras and the bifurcated characters and adding new meaning. But it’s an outlier in a movie that mostly just crashes around aimlessly, without logic or any sense that The Losers finally have themselves or the monster figured out. The finale is especially nonsensical, with a coda underlining the distasteful lesson that the way the fat kid finally gets the girl is by transforming himself into a hunk. Ugh. It gets a D-plus from me.
Overall grade: C-plus. Rated R. Now playing at the AMC River Hills, Carolina Cinemark and Regal Biltmore Grande.
(Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)